Sustainability of the world’s sea stocks has become an increasingly important issue to the culinary community over the last few years. No one is more aware of this than Martin Scholz, Chef de Cuisine at Andaz Hotel, the latest boutique hotel concept by Hyatt Hotels.
When Hyatt Hotels decided to launch their new brand of hotels – Andaz, they chose London’s trendy East End as their first global location. 11 Andaz Hotels will be open by the end of 2012, including locations which have already launched in Shanghai, New York, San Diago, and Hollywood as well as upcoming locations including Amsterdam and Costa Rica.
The Andaz concept is taking a different approach with the guest’s experience, this includes features such as a reception which is refer to as the ‘Living room’ in which guests are sat on couches and offered canapes while being checked in on Ipads. The Andaz is also very focused on integrating into its local surroundings, they have done this in East London by inviting local artists to design certain elements which are scattered throughout the hotel. In addition each room comes with its own ipod dock, and if customers wish they can have an ipod sent to their room which is filled with music by local East London DJs.
So as part of this focus on a more alternative approach, the restaurants were a main focus of interest – See the Andaz Dining website here. In comes Martin Scholz, who for the last 2 years has focused on ensuring that Catch Restaurant – a seafood focused outlet has become one of the UK’s leading sustainable restaurants, using only the finest of UK responsibly sourced produce.
I sat with Martin to discuss his work, sustainability, menu development and his general outlook on the restaurant industry.
Ok so lets start at the beginning, why did you become a chef?
Well I definitely wasn’t fated to be a chef in the beginning, my parents own a carpentry business which I was in line to take over some day. As it happened, at school we were given a week to train in a business of our choice, I chose my aunt’s restaurant.
I remember being very impressed by the fresh fish (which ironically I had hated to eat till I was a teen) and the delicacy of the produce from the sea and I also took very well to the nature of the work in a kitchen. I grew up by the sea in North Germany, I love to sail, I love being by the water, and this has all instilled within me an appreciation for seafood which will stay with me forever. Becoming a chef just suited me from many perspectives and so that’s what I chose for my apprenticeship.
So is this why sustainability is so important to you?
Yes it’s why I am so passionate about it, but it wasn’t the trigger that got me on the path. When I came to London I was relatively unaware of the depth and breadth of the issues we are facing regarding the depletion of fish stocks. Once I took over Catch Restaurant (at the Andaz) my attention was brought to such issues by groups like Fish2Fork. Once I became aware of issues such as bycatch, illegal fishing and the shear number of endangered species I became heavily focused on educating myself on the topic. From this point on I began dedicating a lot of my time towards how we sourced our produce, this began with a lot of research, we changed a lot of our suppliers and then begun developing closer relationships with our new suppliers, who we felt are more in line with our philosophies.
Sustainability is the future of everything in the world, not just fish or food in general. As with most people I want my children to have at least what I had growing up and that is a good environment. There is a global trend in most developed countries towards ‘being green’ , but there is still a long way to go and sustainability, recycling and other such issues need to move from being trends to the norm.
How does all this impact your menu development?
Seasonality is always the first consideration, its like an artists colour palate.
By knowing what ingredients are available it allows me to then become inspired as to the direction that the menu will take. Following this, price is the next concern. It is very important to me that our guests receive great value. To me; the most expensive ingredients are no more valuable that lesser ‘valued’ produce. It really is down to the chef and how he uses the ingredients, its more challenging, but the results are more rewarding for both the chef and the guest.
Next comes flavour pairing, this ties back to the first step and involves looking at what produce is available to us at the given time of year and then bringing the appropriate flavours tougether (i never see the dish on the plate until i’m actually testing the dish and plating it, I go purely on flavour initially) .
Finally as a chef you put your own signature to the dish.
And what is your signature style?
Through Catch I’ve started to come into my own and find my style. I think a signature style is something that a chefs develops over time and it matures.
So far my key signature elements are sustainability, simplicity and less is more. Funnily enough, when I came to London, I actually drew back more on my roots which are North German and Scandinavian.
Right now I am very focused on seafood, but I don’t want to limit myself and am still working towards figuring out the direction I will mature into.
Where do you see the future of culinary trends?
Well these things change all the time, but as it stands; Asia is having a major influence on food all over the world. Other than the obvious differences in terms of ingredients and flavour pairings, it is their simplicity and appreciation for ingredients that distinguish Asian cuisines. In European cuisine we tend to ‘over complicate’ dishes and take ingredients and do a lot to them, Asian cuisines tend to appreciate the natural characteristics of each ingredient used and don’t alter or change them too much, they simply aim to enhance its natural state. I am a big fan of Vietnamese, Cantonese style food, very fresh, clean and simple, but very flavorsome.
I know that you like London, so what do you think the outlook is like for the restaurant industry here?
London’s restaurant industry is so interesting, it’s relatively new in some ways, but is steeped in tradition in others. There is a lot of young blood coming up in the industry (i’d like to consider myself in that category as i’m still only 29), which are bringing a lot of new ideas to the table, in terms of their food, philosophies and kitchen management style.
There are a growing number of Michelin star chefs coming into London. As a chef I would love to receive such an accolade, however I feel that in London many restaurants receive such awards based on a lot of criteria other than just the food. What is most important for me is that guest’s enjoy the food at our restaurant, any other awards or accolades are a bonus.
You mentioned new management styles, what is your management style?
I like to think I lead by example, I am a workaholic and I expect my team to rise to the challenge.
Where do you see your future?
I like working in the hotel industry, and I like working with Hyatt. I have been with the group since 2007 and intend to continue my growth with them for as long as both the Hyatt and I are happy with the work we do together. I have worked with the Hyatt in Berlin, Qatar and London, I intend to move on with them at some point, but I have really come to like London a lot and believe I have developed a really good understanding of the market and culture here, so I will definitely return at some point.